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Wednesday December 17, 2008 2:56 AM

T-Mac's Triple-Double Leads Rockets Past Denver


McGrady, Yao and Artest shine in Houston victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

Click here to listen to the Rockets postgame highlight show.

Houston - Every season has its signature moments; those turning points, both good and bad, which come to represent something altogether larger when viewed with the benefit of hindsight.

Sometimes they manifest themselves during a night in which everything falls apart. Others arrive in the form of "Eureka!" moments when a team finally taps into its true potential and rides that revelation to heretofore unreachable heights.

It's obviously far too soon to say whether or not the Rockets' resounding 108-96 victory over the previously red-hot Nuggets falls into the latter category. But one thing's for sure: For one evening at least, Houston's tremendously talented trio featuring Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and Ron Artest was not just a hoped-for fairy tale. It was reality, bursting forth in all its playmaking, explosive and dominating glory.

This was the sort of performance for which fans had been hoping ever since Houston acquired Artest in mid-August. The numbers bear witness to the Denver devastation left in Houston's wake: T-Mac leading the way with his fourth career triple-double (20 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists.). Yao Ming, owning the paint as if he were Sherwin-Williams, pouring in 32 points on 13-of-19 shooting. And the closer, Ron Artest, who came off the bench to score 20 points, 10 of which came during the decisive fourth quarter. Add it all up and you not only have a performance worthy of all the preseason hype, but one which has to stand among Houston's very best through the opening 25 games of the season.

“It was a good game," said McGrady. "I did see that Ron is a [beast] coming off the bench and that’s what we really need is that spark. He just came out and played ball, knocked down some big shots for us and looked like he was a lot more comfortable coming off the bench. And if he can contribute like that coming off the bench every night, then we’ll be okay. We can be a dangerous team."

And while Houston's terrific threesome will understandably steal all the headlines from this game, the Rockets' success would not have been cemented without a major assist from second-year point guard Aaron Brooks. Filling in for the injured Rafer Alston, the diminutive Brooks was dynamite scoring 18 points and dishing 6 assists, while doing Yeoman's work defensively against his much larger, far more experienced counterpart Chauncey Billups.

"I think he’s got a lot more confidence now," said Coach Rick Adelman when asked about his point guard's play. "I didn’t know what the game was going to bring, but I felt he had been in enough of those situations where he was going to go out and play a pretty good game. We were just concerned with what they were going to do with Billups against him, but I felt Aaron had an advantage at the other end because he’s got the quickness to break a defense down."

As it turned out, Brooks' quickness proved key at both ends of the court. While the Oregon-product directed Houston to its best shooting performance of the season (55.3%), he also managed to limit Billups - who had torched the Rockets for 28 points and 10 assists in their previous meeting - to a mere 8 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field. Adelman said the key was Brooks' ability to shadow Billups all over the floor, regardless of the obstacles placed before him.

"[Billups] is bigger than Aaron so you’re not going to block any shots, you just have to get your hand up and see if you can bother him, and I thought Aaron did a good job of maintaining contact with him for the most part and getting through the screens. Because that’s really where he’s struggled in the past: getting hung up on screens, going under when he shouldn’t go under, and I thought today he had a really good understanding of how he had to play him."

So armed with yet another big bounce-back victory beneath their belts (lest we forget, Houston entered Tuesday night's contest still smarting from a loss to the lowly Clippers), the Rockets now hope to build upon this win in a way which has eluded them up to this point.

"We’re 20-something games into the season and we’ve had multiple guys in and out, so we’ve had to play with a different line-up and different bench," said Yao. "Hopefully we can play more consistent the rest of the season and play with the same groups, so we can build good chemistry. Today was a very good experience for us but it still was just one game of our season.”

Yao clearly gets it: In a vacuum, the victory itself holds little meaning, it's what comes next which ultimately determines its real value - and decides whether we one day look back upon December 16th as a signature moment, or just another unfulfilling hint of what might have been.

Quotes

RICK ADELMAN

(On the game) “I thought the whole game we were pretty good offensively. The second quarter, they just made every shot and when they didn't make the shot, they got it back and we talked about that at half time. If you look at the difference between the two halves, they shoot mid-fifties in the first half, and in the thirties in the second half, and we controlled the boards better in the second half which is a big difference.”

I give our guys credit; they really came out in the second half and dug in defensively, and I thought we really had good patience offensively. We moved the ball, we got it to Yao – not just throwing it straight into him; we went away and came back.”

Tracy was terrific, obviously. He was getting to the basket and making them commit. And I thought Aaron Brooks was great. He stepped in great against Chauncey Billups and played a really solid game. And Ron was really good off the bench - just right down the line with our guys. That’s a good team we played, so it’s a good win for us.

(on Ron coming off the bench): It’s a lot easier, because when you have the three of those guys you can really pick and choose how to play them. I like bringing Ron in the middle of the first quarter, then you can bring Shane back for Tracy. It just gives us good defenders and quality people at those two spots. And defensively we were able to rotate Shane on Anthony, then Ron on Anthony and Shane on Billups a little bit – it gives us a lot of flexibility with those three guys.

(is this what you envisioned when you acquired Ron?): Yeah, I think we have a lot of versatility with those three guys because you can play just a regular line-up with two of them, or you can play three of them and put Ron at the power forward; like when they went small that didn’t affect us at all because Ron could still play Anthony. And we’ve even talked about playing the three of them where Tracy brings the ball up. I think it just gives you a lot of flexibility against a lot of teams.

Like I told them afterwards, we’ve got to build off this win. You’ve gotta get Sacramento coming in here. We’ve got to come out and play a solid game because after that we’ve got three more games in a row [on the road]. So this was a really big game for us against a really good team.

(on the defense played by Aaron Brooks): That’s the thing I liked about what Aaron did tonight: he tried to maintain a presence with him. You can’t get hung up on picks when they play the pick-and-roll. You’ve got to stay down on it..

(on the offense played by Brooks): He’s just going to get better as he figures out that he can’t go in the air when he goes to the basket, unless he’s got a flat-out open lay-up or a pretty good shot, because if he goes in the air and gets hung up, he’s small and can’t see. But if he keeps his dribble alive, he can dribble right through the defense and come back out again; and I think that’s what he’s just got to keep learning.

(on Tracy): There’s just such a difference when he’s feeling better and he’s moving because that’s what he can do: he can make shots, get to the basket and create so much havoc. He’s such a good passer that when he gets in that middle there, he’s going to find open people.

That’s one thing about Ron and Tracy: They’re both big enough to get the ball into Yao. You know sometimes it’s not as easy as you think, but they’ve got the size to see over people and find him in there. And I think it’s really important for us to make sure Yao is the focal point, make sure we put a lot of pressure on the other team, because that opens it up for everyone else.

TRACY MCGRADY

(On Ron Artest) “I think it's a chemistry thing. With the exception of Aaron, that is the starting group we have been with for a lot of games and we feel comfortable with that group. We all know each other out there and I know that having Ron just sit back and see how the flow of the game is going to get a better understanding of what he has to do when he comes in and tonight he didn't hesitate. When we’ve got the defense as well clicking like that, we’re a pretty good team. That’s a great team over there, one of the better clubs in the Western Conference, and I think we played pretty well against them.

I told Yao I should have had 15 assists. I passed him the ball a couple times and he fumbled the ball and dropped my passes.

AARON BROOKS

(On the offensive play) “That's what this team is going to be about if we're going to win. Everybody contributed. Why not, you've got all-star players. That's what we have this team for. We have so many options and so many ways that we can hurt teams. We have to put it together for forty-eight minutes.”

(On Chauncey Billups) “Chauncey Billups is a great point guard. I just had to be focused. I was lucky that he missed some shots today. We played great team defense and we played good.”

SHANE BATTIER

(On the Rockets defense in the second half) “We had a great second half. We gave up 35 points in the second half and we had given up 36 in the second quarter alone when our defensive principles sort of got away from us.”

(On Aaron Brooks) “Brooks did an outstanding job on Billups. The last game he really had a big game against us in Denver. Aaron really made him work and he really did a great job.”

YAO MING

(with everyone hitting their shots, does that make your job easier?): A whole lot easier. I still remember the last time we played them and how bad we played. It’s not just the missed shots out there, it was playing without energy. And today we had a great start and finished well and played with great energy.

(On the defense in the second half) “Them making shots in the second half wasn't really hurting us. But they got four back because of offensive rebounds and that was really hurting us. We know that they were not shooting like that the entire game, but if we were not protecting our basket, it wouldn’t’ help. In the second half, we protected the paint better and we rebounded better and that's how we got back in the game.”

(On Artest coming off the bench) “We have Ron Artest, that level of a player coming off the bench, he gives you multiple scoring when you have Tracy or me sitting on the bench. I think that he did a great job today with the second unit. And at the end of the game, he came back to the starting lineup and played with us and I think today he did a very good job for us.”

(On Aaron Brooks): He used his energy very well; his speed helps him get around people to make easy lay-ups and give us a different look.

RON ARTEST

(on coming off the bench): It didn’t really feel like anything. It was something that we talked about even fore I got here. It was something that was one of the things we were prepared for. It doesn’t matter either way – Shane or me starting, it doesn’t matter.

I think we can play better. Our better days are definitely ahead of us. We haven’t had a really good game yet. We haven’t had our total team once this season, so I think better days are definitely in the future for us.

NUGGETS COACH GEORGE KARL

(on the game) We fought hard and really played well. Houston played great and had a lot of players do good jobs. Our bench played great. I thought this was our worst defensive game of the year. Yao (Ming) was incredibly difficult for us to figure out. (Ron) Artest made some big plays for them. They shot the ball really well and we couldn’t protect the paint.

(on the flow of the game) With ( Tracy) McGrady in the lineup, their post passing is really good. We will have to reevaluate our post defense against Yao (Ming). The game was going to be physical and we didn’t get any whistles.

CARMELO ANTHONY

(on the game) Yao (Ming) really had it going. Tmac (Tracy McGrady) hit timely shots and (Ron) Artest did his part hitting big shots. They stepped it up in the second half and played solid defense.

CHAUNCEY BILLUPS

(on the game) They played good and took care of business at home. They jumped on us early and then we came back and then they took control.

(on the play of Aaron Brooks) I really like the way he plays. He’s really fast and shoots it from deep. He is a poised player and he is really getting better.

KENYON MARTIN

(on the game) In the 3rd quarter, they made big plays to win the game. They got hot and did an excellent job of protecting their home court.

(on the Rockets addition of Ron Artest) He’s a huge addition for Houston. He’s a veteran, plays physical, and plays on both ends of the court.

ANTHONY CARTER

(on the game) They played a great game. They came out aggressively and they made their shots. They are a really good team to be reckoned with. They had a good game and we came out on the short end. It wasn’t fatigue, it was just their night. We did a lot of things well and fought until the end.

NOTES

Houston has now won the last five consecutive games at Toyota Center (11/29/08-12/16/08) after a 108-96 win over Denver . The Rockets have also surpassed the century mark in points four times over this span.

The Rockets recorded 50 points in the paint tonight. Houston has now reached 50 or more points in the paint four times in the last six games (50 on 12/5/08 vs. Golden State , 54 on 12/9/08 vs. Atlanta and 56 on 12/12/08 at Golden State ).

Houston crossed the .500 mark from the field at home for the first time this season after shooting a season-best .553 (42-76 FG), surpassing its .506 shooting night at Oklahoma City (11/17/08). The Rockets also tied season highs in field goals made and assists, matching their 42 makes at Oklahoma City (11/17/08) and 26 assists at Golden State (12/12/08).

The Rockets (11-24 3FG) and Nuggets (10-22 3FG) combined to go 21-of-46 (.457) from beyond the arc tonight. The Nuggets (11-23 3FG) and Rockets (10-20 3FG) also combined to make 21-of-43 (.488) from 3-point range at Denver (11/30/08). These games represent the only two times this season that Houston and its opponent have each made 10 or more 3-pointers in the same contest.

The Nuggets set Houston ’s opponent high this season for second-chance points, outscoring the Rockets by a 23-6 margin in that area.

The Nuggets, who set Houston ’s opponent high this season with 14 blocked shots at Denver (11/30/08), had no blocks in tonight’s game. Denver also held the top two opponent block totals against the Rockets last season (13 on 12/20/07 and 13 on 4/13/08).

Tracy McGrady recorded 20 points (3-5 3FG), 14 rebounds (tied career-high 12 defensive), 10 assists and a season-high three blocked shots. McGrady, who set his previous season bests in rebounds (10) and assists (9) at Golden State (12/12/08), now owns four career triple-doubles (22 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds on 2/23/02 vs. Philadelphia ; 46 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds on 2/23/03 at New Jersey and 17 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds on 12/5/07 vs. Memphis ).

Yao Ming finished with 32 points (13-19 FG), seven rebounds and two blocked shots, marking his third 30-point outing of 2008-09. He also has at least one block in each of his last 10 games.

Ron Artest, who returned to the lineup tonight after missing the last two games with a sore right ankle, came off the bench for his first time as a member of the Rockets.

The Denver reserves outscored the Houston bench by a combined 48-26, despite a 20-point night from Ron Artest. Opponent benches have now crossed the 40-point mark only five times against the Rockets this season.

Aaron Brooks, who got the start for Rafer Alston (strained left hamstring), registered 18 points, six assists and a career-high-tying two steals.

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